In his campaign for Arkansas governor, Democrat Mike Ross Thursday unveiled what he calls his "Seniors Bill of Rights." He detailed it during a speech in Hot Springs. In an interview afterward, Ross said the plan would protect and empower Arkansas’s aging population.
"Numerous regions in Arkansas are known for attracting retirees and it’s an important part of our economy," Ross said. "It stimulates our economy, it creates economic development, it puts people to work, and as governor, I want to send a message and make it very clear that we’re going to insure that seniors have the kind of dignity that they’ve spent a lifetime earning.”
14 percent of Arkansans are 65 or older, according to the most recent census estimates.
A key part of the plan includes a promise to preserve the private option, a bipartisan plan approved by the Arkansas Legislature, which uses federal Medicaid money to buy private coverage for low income residents.
"This is the only part of the Affordable Care Act that the state has any say over. It’s important for a lot of reasons," Ross said.
"Nearly 200,000 people in Arkansas now have access to affordable healthcare. We have cut the uninsured rate in Arkansas in half in just one year, which is one of the biggest success stories in America. Second, every hospital in the state supports it because they’ve started getting paid to treat people that they’ve been treating for free and writing off."
His Republican opponent Asa Hutchinson hasn’t taken a firm position on the private option, saying that if elected, he would review the program before deciding whether to support its reauthorization.
Ross also says he would appoint a "chief seniors advocate" in his office, who would serve as the key advisor on senior issues and a direct liaison with state agencies and organizations that deal with aging issues. Ross also is proposing the creation of an online portal for seniors and adults with disabilities and their caregivers to connect with services.
A spokesman for Hutchinson, Christian Olson, dismissed the proposals by Ross, saying there was very little that was new and called it "more generalities and vague promises."
Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.